DEAR MISS MANNERS: It is not actually written in the Bible that parents have to throw an open house upon the graduation from high school of their child, but where I live, this rule is abided by far more strictly than other rules that actually are in the Bible. Usually, the open house is held at the family's house, food and drink is provided, and guests all bring envelopes containing congratulatory cards for the graduate. The cards contain checks intended to help the graduate move into the next stage of life, which is usually college.
I was invited to an open house that was being held at a well-known nice restaurant. At this open house, waiters moved about taking drink orders. When the waiter brought my drink, he asked if I would like to pay for it now or start a tab.
I was startled but recovered and said I would start a tab. I noticed that when this was asked of other people, they looked briefly startled, too. I have never before been to an open house where I had to pay for anything.
I wonder if the problem is that people often do things as groups, with the understanding that the person arranging the reservations or whatever is not picking up the entire bill. But this party was given by one couple, to honor their one child, and we all had brought what we hoped were generous checks.
I felt vaguely annoyed, but my husband says it was OK, because if they had paid for all those drinks it would have been very expensive.
GENTLE READER: Why, Miss Manners wonders, are you surprised that people who expect others to pay their children's college expenses also expect them to pay for their own drinks?
Fund-raising falsely disguised as social life has become so commonplace that even you do not question the basic premise. When people calculate that they can make a profit from their friends by serving a few drinks, it is not so far a step for them to cut the expenses by charging for the drinks as well.
The self-aggrandizing element, by which the ersatz hosts honor themselves, is a particularly unattractive aspect of this. Guests at a graduation party should be the graduate's friends, most of whom will also be graduating, not his parents' friends, who may not even be well-acquainted with the graduate.
As for your husband's point: If the hosts cannot afford to give that party in that "well-known nice restaurant," why aren't they expected to entertain at a level that they can afford?
By now, you are beginning to realize that if you listened to Miss Manners, you would be run out of town. But maybe not if you restrained yourself from sounding off, as she just did, and approached this subtly.
To protect yourself from exploitation, you need only decline such invitations graciously, writing to congratulate the graduate and his family. If you are so moved, send the graduate a present, not a donation, but this is by no means necessary.
Others may follow, which would discourage the practice. But if your child, or a child of whom you are fond, is graduating, you could lead by example and give a real party, providing refreshments that you can afford and not soliciting donations in return.